Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Benzo Use

Benzos, or benzodiazepines, are a class of drug which is commonly used in a number of medical settings. Most commonly used as anti-anxiety medications, benzos are also used as sedatives, as anticonvulsant medications, and as muscle relaxants. Benzos are relatively safe and well-tolerated in the short term.

Benzos work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. The enhancement is responsible for producing the therapeutic effects of benzodiazepines and for facilitating many of the side effects as well as dependence and withdrawal from these drugs. Other sedative-hypnotics, such as alcohol and barbiturates, have a similar enhancing effect on GABA. This is why benzos are often used to treat alcohol withdrawal. It is also the reason that mixing benzos with alcohol or barbiturates can be deadly.

Benzos are classified as short acting, intermediate, or long acting depending on their duration of action. The most commonly prescribed are:  lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium). Lorazepam and alprazolam are both short-acting. Diazepam is intermediate and clonazepam is a long acting benzo.

Sometimes benzo use can result in a paradoxical effects, meaning in some people benzo use has the opposite effect than what is intended. People with seizure disorders can experience an increase in the number of seizures they experience after taking benzos. Some people have reported aggression, violence, impulsivity, irritability and suicidal behavior as a result of benzo use. These effects are rare, and are usually attributed to the loss of inhibitions caused by benzo use.

Common side effects of benzo use include: drowsiness, dizziness, decreased alertness/concentration, depression, hypotension (low blood pressure), decreased libido, nausea, changes in appetite, euphoria, and nightmares.

Benzodiazepines have also been used as a “date rape” drug because they can markedly impair functions that normally allow a person to resist sexual aggression or assault. Also, benzos commonly cause drug induced short term amnesia, especially when mixed with alcohol. These properties make benzos effective in drug-facilitated sexual assaults.

Benzo use can be both physically addicting and habit forming. Even when taken as prescribed, long term benzo use can result in physical dependence and withdrawal. When used recreationally benzodiazepines are administered orally, intranasally, or intravenously. They are the most commonly misused pharmaceutical drug in the United States.

Long term benzo use requires medically supervised withdrawal management. Whenever possible, benzo use should be tapered slowly. Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can result when a long-term benzo user abruptly stops taking benzos. Symptoms can be severe and include severe antisocial behavior and drug seeking tendencies. Benzo withdrawal has even been known to cause seizures and death in some cases.

Some common benzo withdrawal symptoms include: include: depression, shaking, appetite loss, muscle twitching, memory loss, motor impairment, nausea, muscle pains, and dizziness. Acute withdrawal symptoms can last up to a few months after stopping benzo use, but about 10% of long term benzo users experience post-acute withdrawal. Post-acute withdrawal can last up to a year after stopping benzo use. Symptoms of post-acute withdrawal are similar to the symptoms of acute withdrawal, but they are less severe.